Another magnificent archaeological discovery uncovered in the Holy Land:

Archaeologists in Israel have uncovered intricate mosaics on the floor of a 1,500-year-old Byzantine church, including one that bears a Christogram surrounded by birds.

The ruins were discovered during a salvage excavation ahead of a construction project in Aluma, a village about 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Tel Aviv, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Wednesday (Jan. 22). Excavator Davida Eisenberg Degen said the team used an industrial digger to probe a mound at the site, and through a 10-foot (3 meters) hole, they could see the white tiles of an ancient mosaic.

Much of the church was revealed during excavations over the past month. The basilica was part of a local Byzantine settlement, but the archaeologists suspect it also served as a center of Christian worship for neighboring communities because it was next to the main road running between the ancient seaport city of Ashkelon in the west and Beit Guvrin and Jerusalem in the east. [See Images of a Byzantine Mosaic Discovered in Israel]

“Usually a Byzantine village had a church, but the size of this church and its placement on the road makes it more important,” Degen told LiveScience.

Remarkable finds

The excavators plan to keep working on the site for another week, but one of the most remarkable finds so far was a mosaic containing a Christogram, or a “type of monogram of the name of Jesus,” Degen said.

At the time, Byzantine Christians wouldn’t have put crosses on their mosaic floors so as to not step on the symbol of Christ, Degen explained. The Christogram in the mosaic may look like a cross, but it’s actually more like a “chi rho” symbol, which puts together the first two captial letters in the Greek word for Christ, and often looks like an X superimposed on a P. There is an alpha and omega (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet) on either side of the chi rho, which is another Christian symbol, as Christ was often described as the “”the beginning and the end.” Four birds also decorate the mosaic, and two of them are holding up a wreath to the top of the chi rho.

Inside the 72-by-39-foot (22-by-12-meter) basilica, archaeologists also found marble pillars and an open courtyard paved with a white mosaic floor, said Daniel Varga, director of the IAA’s excavations.

Just off the courtyard, in the church’s narthex, or lobby area, there is “a fine mosaic floor decorated with colored geometric designs” as well as a “twelve-row dedicatory inscription in Greek containing the names ‘Mary’ and ‘Jesus’, and the name of the person who funded the mosaic’s construction,” Varga said in a statement.

The mosaics in the main hall, or nave, meanwhile, are decorated with vine tendrils in the shape of 40 medallions, one of which contains the Christogram. Many of the other medallions contain botanical designs and animals such as a zebras, peacocks, leopards and wild boars, the excavators said. Three contain inscriptions commemorating two heads of the local regional church named Demetrios and Herakles.

Other discoveries

The archaeologists found traces of later occupation on top of the church, including early Islamic walls and Ottoman garbage pits. (Aluma is located near the Ottoman and later Palestinian village of Hatta.) The excavations also revealed Byzantine glass vessels and a pottery workshop for making amphoras, cooking pots, kraters, bowls and oil lamps, IAA officials said.

To avoid building over ancient sites, archaeologists are often brought in for salvage digs ahead of construction projects like this one, sometimes yielding stunning discoveries; for instance, a “cultic” temple and traces of a 10,000-year-old house were discovered at Eshtaol west of Jerusalem in preparation for the widening of a road. And during recent expansions of the main road connecting Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, called Highway 1, excavators found a carving of a phallus from the Stone Age, a ritual building from the First Temple era and animal figurines dating back 9,500 years.

Regarding the new discoveries, the IAA plans to remove the mosaic for display at a regional museum or visitors’ center, and the rest of the site will be covered back up.

Haaretz also has the news with more pics:

Archaeological finds in Lachish

The IAA press release on the find is here.

 

Beyond BeliefThe BBC:

A new series of Beyond Belief begins with a discussion on the impact of archaeological discoveries on religious belief.

Listen here (right click & “save target as / link as”).

Duration: 28 mins.

Features renowned Bible scholar Francesca Stravrakopoulou.

 

3,000-year-old earthenware was first brought up in fisherman’s net many years ago.

Haaretz:

The ancient jugs that were found at sea.

A unique collection of ancient earthenware vessels found in the Mediterranean Sea has been turned over to the Israel Antiquities Authority, following the death of the fisherman who originally brought them up in his nets many years ago. The oldest vessel in the collection is estimated to be about 3,000 years old.

Osnat Lester of Poriya Ilit contacted the Antiquities Authority a few days ago to say that she had several old jugs in her storage closet that had been left to her by a relative who was a fisherman. Two archaeologists from the authority went to her house to check out the collection, and were stunned to discover a real archaeological treasure.

The cloth-wrapped vessels displayed the characteristic pitting of artifacts that have been underwater for many years. The archaeologists said they probably came from some of the ships that have been wrecked off the coast throughout history.

Among the most stunning findings was a unique storage vessel characteristic of the late Biblical period, some 3,000 years ago. It has high basket handles and impressive dimensions. There were also vessels from the Roman period, some 2,000 years ago, as well as the Byzantine period, about 1,500 years ago. The vessels held wine and other products.

“He was a naïve fisherman whose entire world was fishing,” Lester said. “He loved whatever he drew from the water. The fish he ate, and the vessels he kept. He thought they were pretty and could perhaps decorate the house. He never imagined that they were ancient vessels.

“When I saw them, I also thought they were perhaps 100 years old,” she continued. “The only thing we’ve asked of the Antiquities Authority is to tell us where the vessels are going, so that we can visit them with the grandchildren.”

Seaborne trade along what is now the Israeli coast began in the Bronze Age, some 5,000 years ago. Throughout most of history, the eastern Mediterranean has served as a maritime passage between Egypt and Lebanon, and many vessels have sunk there. It’s rare to find a relatively intact wreck from which antiquities can be removed. But fisherman who use nets occasionally dredge up pieces of these wrecked ships.

The James Ossuary

The Kalman Interview at the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem.


 

If correct, the decryption attests to an organized administration and system in which people were literate, and had a system for classifying wine by quality.

Haaretz:

A possible decryption of the oldest inscription ever found at an archaeological site in Jerusalem has interesting implications. If correct, the decryption attests to an organized administration and system in which people were literate, and had a system for classifying wine by quality.

The inscription was found in the Ophel area, south of the Temple Mount, at an archaeological dig run by Dr. Eilat Mazar, from the Archaeological Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The inscription, uncovered six months ago, is etched into a remnant of what was a large clay pitcher, and is eight letters long. It is dated to the second half of the 10th century BCE, the days of King Solomon.

Most scholars who have examined the inscription determined that it was written in an ancient near eastern language, and not in Hebrew.

An article recently published by Professor Gershon Galil from the department of Jewish History at Haifa University, however, suggests a new analysis of the inscription.

Galil suggests that it is written in ancient Hebrew. “The writing itself is unimportant, in Europe, there are currently many languages that use Latin letters,” explains Galil. The word that Galil deciphered, which suggests that the inscription is written in ancient Hebrew is “yayin,” which means wine.

“Here we see the word ‘yayin.’ When you check how all the languages from that period and region wrote ‘wine,’ you see they wrote it with one ‘yud,’ – the same in Samarian northern Hebrew. The Phoenicians wrote it the same way as well. Aside from the southern Hebrew of that time, even the scrolls found in Qumran preserve the same spelling of the word,” explains Galil.

According to Galil, the inscription should be read “in the year [… ]M, wine, part, m[…]”

Galil posits that the inscription can be divided into three parts that describe the wine stored in the pitcher. The first letter is a final “mem”, perhaps the end of the word for twenty or thirty – as in the twentieth or thirtieth year of the kingdom of Solomon. “Wine part” is the kind of wine, and the “mem” represents the place from which it was brought to Jerusalem.

“Wine part” is a term that is known from the Ugarit language from northern Syria, which is the lowest of three categories used to define wine: “good wine,” “no good,” and “partial.”

“This wine wasn’t served to Solomon’s emissaries, or in the temple, but apparently was for the slave construction workers who worked in the area,” says Galil.

From other, later sources, archaeologists know that the low quality wine was given to soldiers or forced laborers. The fact that the wine was of low quality is also logical considering that it was stored in a large vessel that did not keep it very fresh.

This new theory regarding the inscription will no doubt cause a big stir among the archaeological community, regarding the periods of Kings David and Solomon. Many archaeologists claim that during biblical times, Jerusalem was not a large or important city, despite the way it was described in Biblical literature.

Professor Galil and other supporters of the Biblical accounts see the Bible as a historical document, and this particular interpretation of the inscription supports the existence of a complex administrative system, as well as a hierarchical society with regulated shipping from far off places. These claims support the Biblical version of the story, which describes Jerusalem as a large, important city, that ruled over significant kingdoms.

The inscription, according to researchers who support the Biblical version of the history, supports the theory that Jerusalem expanded during King Solomon’s time, from the City of David to the Temple Mount.

 

Which is a fantastic archaeological site by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Dr Aren Maeir (HT) notes:

Dr. Ofer Sion, who is the head of the survey department at the IAA, sent out an email today from which I first saw the excellent website of the Archaeological Survey of Israel. On this site (here is the Hebrew version and here is the English one [which is still listed as a beta version]), you can get online versions of 83 survey maps that have been published so far, including those that were published in hard and electronic forms. There are maps, photos, pottery plates, and most important, accessible summaries, and hard data, from all these maps.

Do check this out – it is an outstanding resource!

That it is! Enjoy.

 

Christianity Today lists them:

1. The Egyptian Scarab of Khirbet el-Maqatir
2. Jezreel Winepress
3. The Wine Cellar of Tel Kabri
4. Royal Public Buildings at Khirbet Qeiyafa
5. The Sphinx of Hazor
6. Gold Hoard Found Near the Temple Mount
7. Roman Legion Base in Galilee
8. Mt. Zion Priestly Mansion
9. An Extra Destruction Level at Gezer
10. Stone pyramid under the Sea of Galilee

More here.